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Driverless Transportation to Return to Arlington, Texas

The city of Arlington is gathering public opinion on their latest driverless vehicle pilot program called RAPID. The program is funded by a $1.7M grant from the Federal Transportation Administration.

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(TNS) — Driverless transportation will return to Arlington in March as the city continues testing best uses for the burgeoning technology.

As city staff and council members hash out details of a possible citywide expansion of the on-demand rideshare service Via, planners are gathering data and public opinion for Arlington’s latest autonomous vehicle pilot program, RAPID. The program is funded through a $1.7 million grant through the Federal Transportation Administration, and the city has partnered with Via, UT Arlington and autonomous vehicle startup May Mobility to launch the program in March.

This spring, people in downtown and around UT Arlington who utilize Via may have the option of taking a driverless vehicle to their destination. Riders whose trips fall within downtown may be asked if they would like to utilize RAPID. The fleet will include a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and free rides for university students.

“We’re hoping that it feels easy and natural to the riders and to help build acceptance of autonomous vehicle technologies,” said Ann Foss, the city’s principal planner.

That acceptance, she said, will help residents adapt as localities increasingly embrace technological advancements.

“It’s likely there will be more and more autonomous technology being deployed in the future,” she said. “We want to help our residents understand how that works and feel more comfortable about that technology.”

Arlington’s trust-building efforts started in 2017 when the city launched Milo, an off-street shuttle that bused people to entertainment district venues from parking areas. From late 2018 to May 2019, the city offered, an on-road van service that transported some 1,400 travelers around the entertainment district on 760 trips, according to city numbers.

Each program has yielded ridership data and feedback on user experience, Foss said, that helps the city find the best use for driverless vehicles. The next step in the city’s experiment, she said, is to integrate services with its existing rideshare program. Via currently covers 41% of the city, including downtown, but the Arlington City Council will vote later this year to expand coverage to the entire city starting in mid-January.

“We’re hopeful that this pilot will be really useful in seeing how the technology integrates,” Foss said.

Texas cities seek best practices for autonomous tech

Jorge Cruz-Aedo, president of the Texas Transit Association and Corpus Christi Transportation Authority CEO, said cities must seek innovative transportation needs — especially helping people get beyond bus or train stops to their final destinations.

”Transportation as we know it today … is a changing world,” he said. “The demand for public transportation is beyond just going down that main arterial in your hometown.”

Discussions about driverless vehicles have intensified in recent years across Texas. Cities such as Austin, San Antonio and Houston have sought information on or pursued autonomous vehicle programs of their own. Before launched in Arlington, the city of Frisco fielded the company during its one-year pilot program.

Cruz-Aedo’s south Texas city launched Surge, an off-street shuttle that transports people around the in-town Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The transit authority shares the data the pilot program collects with the university, as well as analysts in Malaysia, to understand the program’s uses.

“It’s kind of a global test so to speak because it involves other parties that use the data to help us manage the system,” he said.

The conversation isn’t limited to public transportation, either: Cities throughout Dallas-Fort Worth have adopted numerous programs utilizing automation for package delivery, freight transportation and traffic light moderation.

“It’s not just the vehicles. It’s the whole spectrum of things from data to communications to autonomous vehicles and new business models,” said Thomas Bamonte, senior program manager for North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Arlington, Bamonte said, is regional, state and national leader in connected and autonomous vehicle technology, whether transporting people or items.

“They’re very carefully and systematically exploring various kinds of technology, and how they’re building on the success of Via and integrating Via with autonomous vehicle technology is a very creative approach,” he said.

©2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.